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Eric LeGrand story was hard for ESPN producer

kozakkory022511_optFormer Rutgers football player Kory Kozak sees himself in interview

BY NICOLE PRIDE

After working a string of low-paying journalism gigs and a 9 to 5 office supply job, Kory Kozak, a 1993 Rutgers graduate, finally landed his dream job as ESPN producer.

The position was as glamorous as Kozak imagined. He interviewed the likes of sport celebrities Donovan McNabb and Peyton Manning for Sunday NFL Countdown. And, he produced shows for other ESPN favorites such as Sports Center and College Game Day — all for which he received Emmy’s (six matter-of-fact).

But after 10 years, Kozak desired to produce more meaningful stories. So, he decided to seize an opportunity to take another position at ESPN that would permit him to create longer feature stories, and moved to North Carolina to start a family.

“By the seventh McNabb interview, it was a challenge to produce a new story about him,” Kozak admitted. “The stories I’m doing now are untapped. It’s the first time viewers are hearing them. It’s refreshing.”

One of Kozak’s recent in-depth interviews was of Rutgers junior defensive tackle Eric LeGrand who suffered a spinal cord injury while playing last fall.

“I’ve done a lot of interviews, but this one was particularly hard for me,” said Kozak. “When I was at Rutgers, I basically played the same position and went to the same places. He’s me. It could have easily been me.”

As an undergraduate, Kozak played with fellow teammate Tim Pernetti, Rutgers current athletic director. They both were under the leadership of Greg Schiano who was then graduate assistant coach, and now head coach.

“Shortly after Eric was injured, I contacted Tim to let him know I was interested in doing a story when Eric and his family were ready,” said Kozak. “I didn’t want to be too pushy. Given their difficult situation, I knew Eric and his family had much bigger things on their plate than doing a television interview.” While interviewing LeGrand, Kozak was amazed by the athlete’s determination and resilience. “He is trying so hard. I know something good will happen for him.”

Kozak also is proud of a feature segment he produced about Scottish professional tennis player Andy Murray — it’s a story of hope.

A shooting took place in the primary school Murray attended. He was in the third grade at the time. The town was marred since that unforgettable occurrence. “My intention was to capture the promise Murray represented for his hometown.” Kozak said. “In Dunblane, Scotland,” Kozak said, “they want to be recognized for Murray’s accomplishments, not tragedy.”

In addition to playing football as a student, Kozak discovered his interest in media during his undergraduate career. He completed an internship for Rutgers’ sports media relations department and WFAN-AM for the Mike and the Mad Dog show in New York.

“Rutgers proximity to New York City was great for internships and pursuing media jobs after graduation,” said Kozak. “In addition to its location, the university was great for me because it helped me gain a bigger perspective of life. I came from the sticks — a really small town in Pennsylvania. The diversity at Rutgers was awesome.”

SOURCE: RUTGERS FOCUS

 

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